Music

Dum Dum Girls: Too True

Dum Dum Girls’ latest set of retro-rock is heavy on the formula, but who cares when the formula’s this good?


Dum Dum Girls

Too True

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2014-01-28
UK Release Date: 2013-01-27
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Pop music doesn't have to be anything but pop music. It doesn't have to enlighten, or challenge, or do anything except make me want to play it again. Sure, Katy can brag about kissing girls, the Pistols can slag off the Queen, and the Archies can make me their candy girl, but what really matters is the few minutes of aural pleasure they provide. In that sense, all great pop music is the same, which is just as it should be.

So if I start this review of Too True by pointing fingers at Dum Dum Girls’ pop formula, does it make a difference? Singer/songwriter/guitarist Dee Dee Penny and her talented crew are serving up another platter of irresistible earworms, continuing to build on their garage roots with classic post-punk seasonings and references, delivered with sides of shimmering guitars, booming drums, and hook after hook. The songs crash and weave, layering a chilly sheen upon a big, retro sound, and the production -- slick but homemade -- carries just the right amount of heft and attitude. Whether or not you’re familiar with Dum Dum Girls, this is winning stuff, smart and tuneful, heavy enough to command attention but light enough to keep you bopping along.

About that formula, though: it’s a bit like those "once you see it" memes. Once you realize that nearly every song has precisely the same structure, every chorus is loaded with the kind of melodic titular repetition designed to burrow into your brain, every set of lyrics is just dark enough to be palatable to the goth set and, well, once you see it, it’s a bit harder to take in the album as a whole. You might come away from Too True feeling like brief 30-minute set is better taken in smaller doses, like the parts are greater than the whole.

But still -- what parts! Songs like "Cult of Love", "Are You Okay", and the wonderfully dramatic "Too True to Be Good" burst with pop joy, even when the lyrics take a vaguely icy, troubling turn. Dee Dee is in top voice, and her emotional restraint is welcome as she avoids gilding the lily on songs that provide their own drama. And the rest of her crew -- Jules on guitar, Sandy on drums, Malia on bass -- is right in tune with the '80s darkwave mood that drips all over this music. Check out the palpable delight Dee Dee creates by turning the words "Evil Blooms" into an entire chorus, and listen to those Smiths-like guitars backing her up. Check out her dive into dark teen angst on "Are You Okay" ("But what if it doesn't go away? / What if this feeling always plays? / I’m reckless at night and sorry for days") or the lonely shimmer of "In the Wake of You", which calls to mind the Go-Go’s at their most post-punk (with Jane Wieldin on the lead). There is no denying the bliss of these cuts. Even when the lyrics threaten to become uncomfortable, the music is effortlessly life-affirming.

Besides, sometimes the lyrics really do shake us up a bit. "Rimbaud Eyes" repeats the chorus line ("You got Rimbaud eyes") over the slices of Arthur Rimbaud poetry that make up the verses (I picked up "I can no more / Bathed in your langours / O waves, sail in your wake" from "The Drunken Boat"), and you’re left to wonder if Dee Dee is a true believer or if she’s taking subtle swipes at the would-be coffeehouse literates who drop names they learned from Eddie and the Cruisers. Same goes for "Lost Boys and Girls Club", which either caters to or satirizes the disenfranchised youth demo with lines like "I rise and shine / And I look behind / Your eyes like black X’s of hate and hexes." The ice-cool video suggests there’s more behind Dee Dee’s gaze than she’s letting on, but again, that repeated chorus is so disarming, and the music so charmingly Siouxsie-like, you’ll be hard-pressed to do anything but nod along in gratitude.

If Dum Dum Girls don’t shift away too much from their signature sound, they still provide a solid, satisfying variety of intensity and tempo. "Cult of Love" offers some nifty Cramps-like minor-key guitar work and appropriately creepy echo, while "Little Minx" is speedy post-punk, decorated with some thrillingly clean guitar lines to enhance the fuzz. "Under These Hands", a diatribe against uniforms and conformity, slows down the groove and adds acoustics to streamline the stomp. "Trouble" cuts the tempo in half, allowing the weeping tremolo guitar and I-IV-V progression to augment the darkly clever and surreal lyrics Dee Dee whispers so they settle in your soul.

Listen, it may not bother you one bit that Dee Dee almost never alters the recipe to her songcraft. Hell, you could say the same about Chuck Berry or James Brown. Why mess around when you can consistently produce such soaring rock gems? If, like me, you agree Too True should be taken in smaller doses and divvied up into playlists, so be it. It should still be taken. Great pop is a terrible thing to waste.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.